Poor, broken me.

Now that I had done what I previously thought would be impossible, it was time to think about next year. But before that happened, I needed to get my ankles sorted out.

Basically, it was terrible news. I went to the injury clinic where I was told that I had a selection of fresh and healed stress fractures across both feet/ ankles. I was banned from running so that they could have time to heal. He thinks it was from the first race I did, given that I went straight into a 5k with the wrong footwear, unstable park grounds, and no training. It made sense. I had done too much, too soon; exactly what I had hoped to avoid.

A couple of months without running didn’t sound too bad. I’d pick it back up again before Christmas and have a good start to the New Year. Plus, I can still cycle and swim, right? Wrong. The fractures were in such locations that, should I cycle or swim, it could stop the bones from fusing and would set back my recovery. Dammit! What am I meant to do?! Without running, cycling or swimming, I’d lose all my gains from the year! The only thing I could think of was to swim – open-water – without using my legs. So I did.
For the sake of my sanity, I won’t try and recall every swim I did or exact dates for things over the next few months so I’ll sum things up like this:
– I went back every two weeks to see the physio and after a month or so, I was given the all clear for cycling and swimming again. I still wasn’t allowed to use fins (for indoor training) and wasn’t allowed to stand or push/ pull too hard on the bike. That was fine – I didn’t care too much for the fins, anyhow. Also, by this point, we were training on turbo-trainers for the bike so I didn’t have to worry about any extra pressure/ hills if I didn’t want to.
– My ankles healed enough that I was given strengthening exercises to do with a rubber band. They were dull but I did them. There were also some single leg balancing drills which I had to do 3 times a day. I did them at my desk at work but felt pretty stupid stood there on one leg, balancing on a scrunched up towel, with my eyes closed.
– Each time I went, the range of motion in my ankle either didn’t change from the last time, or got marginally better. Either way, not enough to start running again. This meant more time off from running.
– Christmas came and I was keen to get running. I took my family up to Scotland that Christmas and Will would be there too. It would have been really nice to go and hit some snowy trails. Sadly, that was not going to be the case. My next appointment wasn’t until the first week in January so I didn’t dare run a step just in case it put me back anymore.

I had a nice Christmas break with the family then headed back down South and, later that week, went to my appointment. I was allowed to run again! However, to make sure that my ankles were strong enough, I had to take it carefully. Starting with scheduled 10 minute runs and getting longer if I felt alright. Before too long, I was back up to 40+ minute runs and feeling alright. Knowing that my motivation is helped by having an event to train for, I signed up for…

 

…Ironman 70.3 Weymouth. Hey, why not!

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Bagging me that free hoodie!

A couple of weeks after the Duck ‘n’ Dash, Dean was still speaking to me, and it was time for the 3rd Sprint in the series. Free hoodie time! N.b. We all know that if you’re paying for races that things aren’t actually free – but it’s nice to think that you’re getting something for you efforts.

Will was back again for this race; however, he was doing the standard distance, instead. Same as the first race, he came to mine the day before, collected our race numbers, drove the bike route, checked our kit, ate copious amounts of spag and salmon, then headed off early the next morning. Once we had finished setting up our transition areas, we headed off to the waterside. Because he was doing the standard race, he would be starting in the swim group after mine. My group was called into the water and then set off. Claire arrived shortly afterwards, as is tradition, and watched as I came out of the water. Again, the cycle was pretty standard – except for one thing… I had been concentrating on my hill work so when the big one appeared in the middle of the lap, I was ready. I got into a lower gear during the slight incline and spun my legs out a little to make sure they were nice and loose. Before I hit the bottom, I actually went up a couple of gears. This required a decent amount of push on the pedals but was a comfortable level for me to do for a period of time. There were quite a few people on this hill so to get past them, I need some immediate power. I geared up one more time, stood up out of my saddle, and went for it. I was up that hill in no time at all! I had overtaken so many other riders and even a few with the fancy tri-bars who had whizzed past me earlier on when it was flatter. It felt awesome. At the top of the hill, I made sure not to slow down so I hit the gears up some more, tucked down onto the drops and pedaled like fury. I did this for a good 4-5 minutes before finding my race gear again and taking some ‘active recovery’. I also had a gel and a good glug of drink. A few of the tri-bar riders past me eventually but it took a fair amount of time for them to catch up.
Back at transition, I put my bike back and grabbed my running kit. Like at the Duck ‘n’ Dash, I went for the sockless option for running. It saved a bit of time and wasn’t too uncomfortable over the fairly short distance. Now I was used to running (much more than I was at the start!) I got on fairly well. Still only managed a 30 minute 5k but that’s just the pace the running gods gave me. Having said that, this was a full run – no stopping! I did feel, a few times, that I should stop and check my ankle again as it was not feeling great but I wanted to run at least one race without stopping. So I kept going. Coming down the finish line, I finished in 1:43:16. Two and a half minute off race 2; 11 and a half from race 1! I was more than happy with those numbers! Even more happy with my new hoodie!

I joined my family and we got ready for Will to come in off the bike leg. My ankle was complaining a lot so I just took off my shoes and walked around without anything on them for a while. It felt really nice having the grass on my feet. I didn’t think at the time that this could potentially be a feasible way of sorting my problems.
As Will was doing double my distances (and we were a similar speed on the bike) I knew we had a bit of time to wait. We had to wait a little longer than expected because he got a flat part way round his second lap. I’m still to have that issue (touch wood). When he eventually turned up, I got to join in with the cheering! It’s great fun. He wore his running trainers on the bike so was a speedy transition then off he went on the run. Being a runner, he completed it with ease. We watched as he passed other runners, even lapping a few.
Great celebrations at the end as we had now both done what we had come for and, to top it off, it was a lovely warm day.

Now, what did I want to do next? I know, get that ankle fixed!!

Time for the obligatory post-race photo!

Duck ‘n’ Dash

The final triathlon of the series wasn’t for another couple of months and I wanted to make sure that my training didn’t falter. I decided that doing a race in August would act as a bit of motivation to keep me training until September. That’s when I remembered – The Duck ‘n’ Dash – Freedom Tri’s very own event! It was on the 23rd of August so it was a perfect time to get some more training in and race, with enough time before the next one that I didn’t overdo it.
For this one, I managed to rope in Dean. He’s my oldest friend and was best man at my wedding. I think what got him involved, as well as me asking him, was that I was outdoing him with these events and even starting to wear smaller clothes than him (I was always the big one, he was always the sporty one)! However, he was/ is not a swimmer.
He lived a few hours drive away so we decided to make a weekend out of it. He arrived on the Friday evening; we had a pizza and caught up on everything. Soon chat turned to the race. It was an 800m outdoor pool swim followed by a 5km run around the neighbouring park. He sounded pretty confident – “doesn’t sound like a long distance in the pool – plus, 5km isn’t far”. I remember saying that before.
The day before the race, we left my house and we went off to have a dip in the pool and get used to it a bit. As it goes, it happened to be one of the hottest days in the world, since ever. This meant that the outdoor pool was completely packed and we couldn’t even park the car, let alone swim some lengths. So we tried the next outdoor pool – same problem. We thought we’d try our luck and see if the indoor pool had any space. We were in luck! The nice weather had nicely drawn everyone out of the indoor pools so that we had it almost all to ourselves. It wasn’t the same length of the pool we’d be in the next day but I told Dean that it was (tomorrow’s pool was longer). We got to swimming and he, like me back in January, had not done any swimming in a long, long time. It was quite obvious but so you would expect! I must have looked very much the same when I first got back in the pool – though I hadn’t signed up for a 800m swim the next day! Madness aside, I gave him some pointers which I had learnt whilst swimming with the club. The most important piece of advice: pretend there’s a £2 coin tucked between your buttocks. Keep them clenched so that it doesn’t drop! This brings your legs up and keeps them kicking in a better position that loosely kicking all over the place. This helped a little but there was still a fair amount of work to do. After a while, we decided to just kick about in the pool for a bit longer before going out and finding somewhere for a coffee. He sounded a little worried about taking part, as you can imagine, but I managed to talk him into it. What worked best was “I’m doing it, surely you can, too.”

The next morning, we got our kit together and headed off to the outdoor pool. I had to lend him some goggles so that he didn’t get water in his eyes. He also borrowed some shorts as he had only brought one pair and didn’t like the idea of running in wet shorts. I, on the other hand, had my tri-suit to wear which dried quite quickly (and I was used to wearing it).  As we were quite early, we got some time to chat with some of the other club members (some racing, some marshalling) and introduce Dean. We mentioned to some of the pool Marshalls that he wasn’t the most confident swimmer so may be a bit slow. Being the friendliest triathlon club in Hertfordshire, they were all very accommodating of this and assured him that there’s plenty of time and there’s nothing to worry about; the pool’s big enough to stand up in.

The races started with the children’s race. There were various lengths and they all looked to be having a great time. After them came the next race. This was for adults and was half the size of the one we were doing. Once the final racer had started, our one was lined up. They called us down in order of estimated swim time. This way, there was less chance of people being held up. As a more confident swimmer, I was further towards the front than Dean. Fortunately, as he had already met some people beforehand, he hung back and chatted to some of the other races in his estimated time slot. Claire and Max had also arrived at this time so were ready to take some pictures.
BANG! And they’re off! The racers were sent off every 20 seconds so that their times could be accurately taken. Before long, I was in the water and swimming ahead. There were strict rules about not passing people ahead of you until you got to the end of a lane, and if you want to pass, tap the feet of the person in front of you. I was stuck behind someone so tapped their feet. At the end of the lane, they kept going. I tapped again, same thing happened. I was getting so frustrated! After a while (with people passing us both) I also gave up on that rule and swam round it must have taken a good couple of minutes off my swim time. I wasn’t the happiest person when I got out of the pool. From what Claire tells me, Dean got into the pool just as I was about to get out. We had planned to meet on the run as he was much faster in that discipline than I was.
Out of the water, and not having to get out of my wet-suit, transition was pretty fast. Slipped my shoes on (no socks – saved me a good couple of minutes!), grabbed my hat, and scooted off in the direction of the park. It was all really well sign posted so I didn’t waste any time looking about for directions. Being on the grounds of the park, it felt really nice underfoot. I was still fairly slow and did a good amount of walking but I was keeping a decent pace. For a good while around the first lap, I was just a small bit behind another racer. As we were keeping a pretty even pace, on the next downhill, I decided to catch her up so I’d actually have someone to run with. It was quite nice, really – we were going at a slow enough pace that we were able to chat and also if I stopped to walk any, it wasn’t to hard to catch her up again. We stayed this way for the rest of the first lap and about half way into the second lap. That’s when my ankle went on me. The pain sheered through my ankle and made me stumble sideways. I thought I had tripped on something, or maybe landed awkwardly. After checking I was OK, the racer I had been running with carried on to complete the course. I sat on a tree stump, caught my breath and took my shoe off for a minute. I rolled my ankle around with my hand and when it started feeling a bit better, I put my shoe back on and carried on round for the rest of the lap, making sure to be careful where I was running. There were Freedom Tri club members all around the park acting as marshalls so I had plenty of encouragement to keep me going. I still had to walk a few more times but made sure to be running when I came round the final corner. As seems to be tradition now, when I got closer the finish line there were the chants of “sprint finish! Sprint finish!” I wasn’t sure if my ankle would allow it but I saw everyone at the end (including Claire and Max, who were chanting along with the rest) and it really fired me up. “Hell to the ankle,” I said to myself and ran like it was there was someone trying to overtake me.
At the finish line, I was given some flapjack and electrolyte drink, partook in the obligatory high-fives,  and hugged Claire and Max. “Dean is on the run now,” Claire told me. Apparently he had an even tougher time in the swim then we’d expected. The first few lengths were pretty knackering for him but from, maybe length 5 or 6, it was a battle of wills. He had lost all energy in his arms and shoulders, his legs were drooping down and eventually had to resort to a modified doggy paddle. Of course, being a rugby lad, he didn’t want to quit. He didn’t have that mentality. Even when he was overtaken by the relay teams (who went in at the very end), he didn’t stop. I caught up with one of the swim marshalls (as the pool was now off-limits, so he came to see the runners) and he told me that it the most impressive display of mind-over-matter that he had ever seen. He was even more impressed when I told him that he had only really started swimming the day before! At each length end, he had encouraged Dean to keep going, that he was doing really well, and that if he wanted to stop, it didn’t matter. When he got out of the pool, not that he can remember this, but there was the most almighty cheer for him! People had waited back to see him complete the swim! Shortly after hearing this, he came past us, completing his first lap of the park. “I hate you!” he shouted at me as he went past. “Good!” I shouted back.
He complete the second lap in about 12 minutes or so and did not look like a happy bunny. “Dude,” he said, “that swim almost killed me.” That was all I got before he filled his face with flapjacks.
Claire shared with him some photos she had taken during the swim and run, then she had to take Max home. We stayed behind to watch the awards ceremony and chatted to some of the club members and other racers. Dean’s anger at me ‘forcing’ him to join sign up for this event soon turned to a hidden smugness as everyone told him how impressed and proud they were and that he’d be a welcome member of Freedom Tri (if he lived closer). After a while, we left and found a coffee shop to relax in. Cafe Nero – milkshake and a brownie. Our favourite combo. We were looking at our race times and, as I expected he would, started talking about where he could make improvements. “Well,” he said, “if I sign up to the local gym and start swimming, I could save loads of time!”. That was an easy one. “Also, if I run in my swimming shorts, I wouldn’t have to get dry and change in transition.” It soon became apparent that the hell he went through during the swim all seemed fairly trivial and that he actually really enjoyed it. We decided that we’d do it again the following year, this time with some training behind it.

Dean looking quite uncomfortable (but I’m the king of fresh).

Race 2

12th July came around very quickly and it was race time again. I was much better prepared for this one and had actually practised the run. I had decided that I would do the Sprint races for all three in the series as I didn’t want to do too much, too soon.
Will wasn’t able to join me, this time, but Claire and Max still made the trip. It was a fairly uneventful race except the weather wasn’t particularly pleasant. My knee was feeling much better and I saved time on the swim, transitions and run. What more could I ask for? Some ankles which worked, perhaps? The run was hugely improved but my ankles were still playing silly-buggers. I assumed they were just getting used to the orthotics and new supported shoes.

1:45:51 – Exactly 9 minutes faster than my first race. This time was a huge achievement for me. Proof that training with the club was paying off!

Hats off for the happy chappy.

After the race

From that first race, I was hooked. Looking back, I loved every minute of it and cannot recommend it enough to people toying with the idea. In fact, coming from an overweight, lazy person who could barely swim a length, didn’t cycle an awful lot, and definitely didn’t run, as they say, if I can do it, so can you.

By this point, I had signed up for the next 2 races (12th July and 6th September) and I knew exactly where I wanted to improve. Running was the obvious one but transitions were also just important when it came to saving time. Should I practise running along and taking off my wetsuit? Could I lay out my kit in a different order? Did I need to wear socks? How about nutrition; could I practise taking that on the bike rather than doing it at my transition point? I spent a fairly decent amount of time thinking about these, seemingly trivial, things before the next race.

Being in the same location, it was a perfect way to see if I was able to improve anything. To make sure I did, I made the most of my new membership with Freedom Tri, and went to as many swimming sessions as I could, in the pit (3 or 4 mornings per week); joined them during their running practise; and sometimes joined them on long rides at the weekend. I also tried to fit in a cycle to and from work as often as I could.
During the run training, my ankles started giving me bother so I went back to the shop where I bought my wet-suit and got a professional gait analysis to see what kind of shoes I should be wearing. It was recommended that I wear a strongly supported shoe to counteract my over-pronation (feet pointing outwards). I bought these and happily went on my way. They took a bit of getting used to but they did feel much better.
My knee pain was still plaguing me so I decided to go to see an injury specialist. Luckily, there was one which would give discounts if you were a club member. He was able to slot me in pretty quick and give me an evaluation.
NOTE:  I am not a Physiotherapist, Doctor, or biomechanical specialist of any kind so I will probably get things wrong and I will also limit the amount of fancy words used (probably to zero).
After giving me a thorough looking over, he came to a conclusion. It was that I had an imbalance in the strength between my quads and hamstrings (probably due to my training in cycling but not running) which caused my knee to hurt. The fact that I jolted it on the bike may have just sped up the pain coming to the surface. I was given some daily strengthening exercises to do to try and fix this imbalance. He also mentioned that I was a flat footed over-pronator and that to help straighten me out during the run, I would need orthotics in my shoes to support my feet and make them point forwards. I mentioned that I had already been given the gait analysis and that I was recommended the most supportive shoe (which I had taken with me); however, after looking at the shoes, he decided that the orthotic would be needed as well. I went back a week later once the orthotics had arrived. I was given two pairs: one for everyday walking about; and one for running. This meant that I was constantly receiving artificial support for my arches. As I had no basis to argue this, and trusted his professional recommendation, I went off and wore the orthotics daily and during running. They were very strange to start with (never actually got used to them) and was told that I would probably feel a certain amount of discomfort for the first few days, as I got used to them, so I shouldn’t wear them all the time from day one.
They were really uncomfortable but, being the obedient little sheep I am, followed his advice and transitioned into wearing them daily, assuming they would become comfortable as time went by. I think it got to a point where they weren’t comfortable but I didn’t realised they were there. I think the pain receptors in my feet just gave up sending me signals. I also believed what he had told me so I kept training in them (still with my supported shoe, as well) in the hope that one day I’d be running free and easy like Forrest Gump. It wasn’t long before the next race.

Race day

So, there I was, 7th June 2015. Race day.

My brother had come over the day before and in the afternoon, we drove to the race grounds to take a look at where we would be swimming, cycling and running. It wasn’t at all daunting! Well, maybe just a lot. We also picked up our race numbers and t-shirt. We decided to drive the bike route in an attempt to find where the hills were and tried to plan out when was the best time to take a gel. Even though I had done so much more than that distance in training, it felt very long when driving around it. That evening, back at home, he joined me in eating a double amount of fresh spaghetti with smoked salmon and tomatoes. He was just as excited as I was for his first triathlon. After we had eaten, we checked over our kit. Discipline at a time, we made sure we had everything:
Swimming: Tri-suit, goggles, lube, wetsuit, swim cap
Cycling: Helmet, socks, shoes, glasses, gels, bike, toolkit, pump, spare inner-tubes, computer
Running: Shoes
But, you mustn’t forget the 4th discipline:
Transition: race number, towel, talcum powder (useful to dry wet feet), spare gels, water, safety pins

After we were sure that we had everything, we put it all safely into the car (except the bikes – we’d do them in the morning) then went to bed.

0500 wake up. Groan. Up we got, had some granola and coffee then went to put the bikes onto the carrier on the car. Race start was at 0800 (there always so early!) so we left the house at 0600 to we made sure to give ourselves plenty of time. My wife and son were going to see use racing later on so they stayed in bed whilst we went off.

When we got there, we showed off our race numbers (one on the helmet, one on the bike, and on around the waist) and headed into the transition area to set up our kit. Everything thing is based on those numbers, including where your transition area is. My brother’s was quite far away from mine so we split up for a bit and got ready. In a huge coincidence, to my left was a fellow Freedom Tri member setting up his kit. He was there is the full black and green (club colours) tri-suit and had a very nice bike. I introduced myself as a new member and we got to chatting. He gave me a few pointers, such as putting talcum powder in my socks, then my socks in my shoes, and I shared with him my failure to prepare and only swimming open-water once, the day before. Shortly after, I went to see my brother and told him about the chap I had just met. At about 0730, we started getting our wet-suits on. Lube all over, legs in, arms in, squeeeeeze! I was in. I took my goggles and swim cap and headed over to the water’s edge before hearing the “clear out of transition” message over the tannoy system. I had taken a gel with me a chucked that down about 15 minutes before race-start. The super-sprint racers started before us (super-sprint is half the size of a sprint so they’re out of the way quickly) so they set off at about 0745. I tried to watch their strokes as they hit the water to see if there was anything I could copy. There wasn’t. At about 0750, we were invited to enter the water to warm up. I was expecting to be treading water for about 10 minutes before the race which was not something I was looking forward to. As it goes, I was ankle deep in goose shit for 10 minutes. I’m not sure which one I would have preferred. Anyhow, I dunked my head under water a few times and made sure my suit got suitably full of water. My brother wanted to be in the back of the pack, out of the way of the swinging arms and legs) so moved back a bit. I was quite keen to get the feeling of the mass start (as I thought it would be my only race) so stayed in the centre. I got chatting to the racer next to me. It was his first time, too so we shared our stories and wished each other luck before the claxon rang.
And we were off! Arms and legs flailing all over the place, I went off at a much faster pace than I had expected or planned. It was an out and back lap which saw us going down stream to start with, then back up against the current. Somehow I managed to do it all in one go – not stopping except to adjust my goggles once after a stray elbow clocked me in the face. Climbing out of the water was quite an interesting experience; going from horizontal to vertical and running on wobbly legs just didn’t feel quite right but I made it up and started taking off my suit as I made it into transition. My brother had finished before me and was already getting into his cycling gear by the time I had reached my station. By this point, my wife and son had turned up and were shouting to us from the fence. It was a real boost to see them. After a few minutes, I was all ready to go. I took another gel before taking my bike off the racking and making my way to the bike start.

There is a line that you must cross before you can get on your bike, for safety reasons. I waited until that line, went a little further and tucked to the side so that I didn’t get in the way of any of the faster people. Still sporting jelly legs, I climbed onto my bike and got moving. People were cheering all along the channel out onto the road and I saw my wife and son one last time before heading out for the rest of the lap. I tried to remember what we had seen before in the recce and when I should be conserving energy for upcoming hills, etc. My mind had gone blank so I just went for it. Powering up the first hill, I passed quite a few people. It was exhilarating! Though that feeling didn’t last too long as I was passed by quite a few of them when we reached the flat. I had gone out too fast and was already paying for it. I spent the next couple of miles going easy and making sure that I didn’t expend to much unnecessary energy. After a while, I got into the flow and had a pretty comfortable speed. There were still faster people overtaking me, but that was ok –I was only new to this and had reduced my training due to my dodgy knee (which was still feeling quite dull). All I cared about was completing the course. About half way around the bike lap, I remembered a big hill we had come across the day before. I thought there was a light downhill section which led to it so that I could get some kind of momentum built up before tackling it. I was wrong. The light downhill was actually a light uphill. So I had to work to keep my pace up this hill before reaching the main hill. It was horrid. Just before I reached the bottom of the hill, I found the smallest gear I had on the bike and started spinning. This seemed to work quite well and before long, I was overtaking people who were trying to force their way up in a higher gear. Thanks, Global Cycling Network on YouTube for that advice!
The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful and the last mile or so was downhill so I rested my legs a little and just let the bike take me back (though I did keep my eyes open this time – I was lucky not have fallen off that last time!).
Just before transition, there was a Marshall calling for riders to dismount before the line. If anybody went over the line, they’d be disqualified. To make sure I wasn’t one of those people, I got off way, way too early. I ran the last little bit back into transition, hung my bike up on the rack, and started preparing for the run.

You may have realised that I made no mention of my running training in this blog, so far. That’s because there wasn’t any. I have never enjoyed running. I tried it for a few weeks, a couple of years before, but it made my lungs burn and I didn’t enjoy it so I gave up. I thought 5k would be fine and that training would be pointless, anyway. Boy, was I wrong.
With my shoes tied and race number spun round, I headed off to the run exit. Still cheering from the sidelines were my wife and son. It was awesome fuel; however, my run fitness was at such a poor level that I thudded along for a short amount of time then had to stop, catch my breath and then walk for a while. People say run-walk-run is a good way to train and to do long distance races – but this was neither. It was humiliating. After doing the swim and the bike, you’d have thought I could muster up a bit more stamina to take me further than, if I’m being generous, 300m at a time. Anyhow, on I went run-walk-run-walk-run-walk-run all the way around the park. I can’t remember how many laps it was (maybe 2 or 4?) but each time I made it back to the beginning, I’d get another fill of cheer-energy from the family. My brother had finished by the time I was about half-way round the run. He was waiting for me at the finish line.
My feet felt like they were on fire, and my knee was in agony but I knew that I’d hate myself if I stopped short of the finish line. “It’s only 5k,” I’d tell myself, “4k”, “3k”, “2k”, on the last part of the final lap, I heard everyone cheering – seriously, the support at these events is unreal. I was so close to the end and veered away from the lap marker down towards the finishers chute. As I got closer, I saw a whole group of Freedom Tri members who had cycled across to watch the race and cheer on their club mates. Some of them recognised me from the club aquathlon, weeks before, and started shouting and cheering: “Come on, Robb!” followed by “You can do this” and my favourite “Sprint finish! Sprint finish! Sprint finish!”. Well, I couldn’t let them down now, could I. So, with their chanting behind me and my family in front, I charged down towards the line and fast as my legs could take me. I had done it.

1:54:51 – A personal best; A personal first; A personal victory.

I was on such a high after completing the race, I forgot all about the pain in my knee, the fact that I couldn’t breathe and the thought’s of driving home with dead legs. It was absolutely fantastic. I took a banana and electrolyte drink from the table and went to see my family and new friends.  Never had I thought that I’d do something like that, but I did. And not only that, as I was walking back to my car, my brother and I were already talking about which areas we could improve on and changes to the usage of gels etc. So, as soon as we were back at the car, I signed up for the next race in the series. And, for good measure, I signed up for the 3rd one, as well. You got a free hooded top if you did all 3 and who am I to miss out on free stuff!

Hands in the air – Happy as I’ve ever been, yet so glad to be finished.

Did someone say open water?

A few weeks before the race, my brother mentioned that Lidl or Aldi (I can never remember which one’s which) were doing a triathlon/ cycling sale and that they had tri-suits available for £15. Bargain! So I bought one for me and one for him then went home and eagerly tried it on. I was looking like a real professional. That is, if the professional in question was a professional pie-eater comically squeezed into a skin-tight one-piece. Nonetheless, it felt good. I wore it to swimming the next week then, halfway through a length (I was doing quite a few by now!), I made the link between open water swimming and the need of a wet-suit. I’m not sure if it was the tri-suit that triggered this thought or if the weird looks I was getting was making me want to cover up, but I knew that I needed to get one. I’m not sure why it went so long without putting 2 and 2 together. Not only did I need a wet-suit, but also I needed some experience of swimming outside of a swimming pool. To remedy this, I went on the hunt online for a wetsuit and somewhere to swim outside.

The wet-suit world is much larger than I was expecting. Also, if you’re not careful, you’ll end up with a surf wet-suit which is definitely not something you want to try and swim in. Swimming wet-suits are specifically designed to have thinner neoprene under the arms to allow for a wider range of motion, and they tend to have thicker neoprene in the shins so that it helps to hold your legs up, giving you a better position in the water. After a good few hours of looking online, I gave up. There were too many wetsuits to choose from and the only place I could find for outside swimming were some outdoor pools (and after the weird looks I got wearing a tri-suit in a swimming pool, I can’t imagine what it would be like to wear a full wet-suit!). What I had found, however, was a triathlon shop (Trisports) in Letchworth Garden City which was only about 15 minutes away. I immediately got up and drove there. When I got there, I explained my predicament and that I may or may not continue with triathlon past this point so I was advised to get an entry level wet-suit. I followed their advice and tried on the suit (Zone 3 Advance, perhaps? I can’t quite remember). It fit well so I went ahead and bought it, along with some nice new goggles and some lube. It sounds funny, but some form of suit-lube is crucial when it comes to swimming in a wet-suit, unless you like chafing. As I was buying the suit, I saw a flyer for the ‘Duck ‘n’ Dash’, an aquathlon organised by local triathlon group, Freedom Tri. It turns out the club have a good relationship with Trisports so I asked a few questions and found out that they do proper open water swimming in the Blue Lagoon in Arlesy. What a stroke of fate! As soon as I got home, I found their website and enquired about swimming with them.
After exchanging emails for a week or so, I was invited to join them at the Blue Lagoon to watch one of their internal aquathlons. They have various club races during the season. It gave me the chance to meet some of the club members and to see if it’s the kind of club I see myself joining. Their tagline is “Hertfordshire’s friendliest triathlon club” and they definitely lived up to it. I had a great morning! Watching everyone setting off in a mass start; swimming a lap of “the pit”, as it’s lovingly known; remove their wet-suits; run up and out of the gates and off on the 5k run. Apart from all the standard safety rules everyone has to follow, there was one particular rule which, if broken, would mean immediate disqualification. You MUST high-five everyone. If you go past a single person without a high-five, be they spectating, racing, or otherwise, you will be marked with a big fat ‘D’ on the time-sheet. It really brought a sense of fun to the race and after about 4 or 5 high-fives, I knew that this was the club for me. So I signed up and mentally prepared myself for swimming in “the pit”.
Due to insurance and liability reasons, there were certain things you had to do before going in the pit: you had to be able to swim at least 900m unaided; be a member of the club; have an induction swim with one of the swim leads; and sign a waiver. After sorting all of this, I found a swim lead who was able to take me out on my first swim. Due to my lack of planning, or failure to think about swimming outside, the first they could fit me in for my induction swim was Saturday June 6th 2015. The day before the race. I made it around, though had to stop several times (there are buoys marking the route – useful as hovering spots). I had done over 900m in the pool, once or twice, but it was very different in the open water. Even though the wet-suit gave me added buoyancy, I still felt quite uncomfortable being so far from an edge and in such deep water (apparently there’s an old double-decker bus down at the bottom for the local diving club to play around in). When I got out of the water, though, I felt great. I was comfortable in my ability to swim and really glad that I had done some open water swimming before the race. Now it was time to go home, carbo-load and get some rest.